Friday, December 26, 2008

Long Time No Blog...

A brief update, to be followed by many not-so-brief updates.

The footage is in the can, as film making types are wont to say. In fact its been in the can, out of it and into my hard drive already. And then organised into something resembling an interesting order.

I'm now casting for a voice actor to play "Karl" and hopefully getting a sound edit completed once I finish the Christmas rounds.

I'll post in more details in a couple of days with some screencaps, production stills and anything else I find interesting.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

High Definition Video...Continued

So, as I said in my last post - JVC GY-HD110E and Final Cut Pro, not really the best of friends.

I being the bull-headed individual that I am however, was determined to get the two to communicate. In my mind there is no real reason that they shouldn't - and I hate it when things don't work the way they're supposed to. Checking around DVinfo and Creative Cow (where I spend most of my time when I'm supposed to be doing pre-production work) the "accepted" way around this issue was to use a 3rd party piece of software to capture the footage in raw uncompressed MPEG2 form, then use yet another 3rd party piece of software to transcode this data into Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) which FCP is happy to play with. All fine and dandy you may think, but this process is extremely long and computer intensive, it's not something you can leave running in the background whilst you play Tux the Penguin thats for sure.

There were many people asking for a way around this - reducing steps in the workflow is what non-linear editing (in my humble opinon) is all about so this laborious process is something of a pain to have to deal with. Unfortunately I couldn't find any other solutions to the problem in the vast bowels of the internet. The same can be said for my peers and tutors - it was very easy to find someone with an opinion on the subject, but nobody had actually tried to find a solution for it themselves - relying on the same sources that I had looked at for their "knowledge". So, I finally decided to just figure it out myself.

I setup a test shoot, I figured whilst I was at it I would check out some other "accepted facts" about the HD110 so I shot in all four formats the camera I had was capable of shooting in. Namely DV50i, DV25p, (standard definition interlaced and progressive) HDV-SD50i and HDV-HD25p (high definition interlaced and progessive) - now we were always warned off shooting progressive on JVC cameras as they don't shoot "true" progessive. They shoot the 50 frames as they would for interlaced footage, and then "throw away" alternating frames to leave 25 frames which are then encoded to tape. So you're only getting half the image quality, there is of course an opinion that this gives a more "filmy" look to your work and is desirable - I leave that to individual opinion. I decided to test this theory at the same time as doing the HDV footage because, to be honest, I didn't know if the HDV was going to work and I wanted to know what to shoot my film in to give it the best possible outcome. I also tested the difference between having a shutter speed of 50 and 25 - this being another contentious "fact" in that matching the shutter speed to the frame rate gives the best results. With the standard defintion DV footage, I have to be honest I noticed very little difference between DV50i and DV25p and differant shutter speeds. Shots in which an object moves rapidly across the frame do give a blurring effect in 25p, on a frame by frame analysis there is much more bleeding and light trails but to the eye when played at real time the effect isn't anything to lose sleep over. Again I leave this to personal preference.

Now, to the juicy stuff. The HDV footage. The main challenge here was getting the footage from the tape, into FCP. The first hurdle, and admittedly the greatest one was getting FCP to recognise the camera as a firewire connected deck. I'm using the latest version of FCP (6.0.4 at the time of this article) so it has an array of HDV codecs available - none of which work. Poking around some more I started to investigate the HD codecs, and amazingly found one which works. In a new project from FCPs main menu, using the Easy Setup option, chose the HD options, and then select "Apple Intermediate Codec 1080i50" and click OK and it'll change all of your settings for you bring up the "refreshing A/V devices window" briefly and then sit waiting patiently for you. No "unable to find Firewire 1080i50 device please check blah blah blah" window, no spinning beach ball of death, and no unexplicable closing of FCP.

It just works.

Now, I hear you all crying out in desperation "Pete you bloody idiot! All the footage is in 720p25! You've ruined my life!" Be calm, I reply, worry not I say. Because even though you've set it up to capture 1080i50 footage, your footage will still capture 720p25. Now you can ask me the how and why, but to be quite honest I don't know - I can only assume that because the camera has no 1080i option it outputs in the only format it knows, which is 720p. If you don't believe me then try it, check the clip format in your logging bin and you'll see its 1280x720 at 25 frames per second with square pixels.

Now, if you've not used HDV before FCP has a differant log and capture window for it, and in fact with this method you get no logging options - it will only capture from the HDV GOP settings (I don't have the energy to explain this but basically, it logs your clips from whenever you pressed REC to start/stop the camera, so it'll capture all the footage off your tape - just delete the clips you're not going to use afterwards, it takes less time than doing a standard mark in/mark out DV log) once you've captured, double click a clip as normal, set your in and out points and drag it - again as normal - to either the timeline or the insert/overwrite window whichever way you prefer. Now you'll get an error message popping up, because you've used the Easy Setup option your sequence timeline is currently set to 1080i50, but because your clips have captured in 720p25 so they don't match the sequence. All you have to do is click the option which changes your sequence to match your clips and everything will be hunky dory.


I've found one problem with this setup that I can't test. Although you can output a Quicktime movie file in whatever format you please (HD or SD) FCP won't let you print to video because it's looking for a 1080i50 deck, I'm assuming that this option can be changed in much the same way as the sequence settings so that you can output to MiniDV but unfortunately the HD110s firewire is output only, so cannot operate as a recording deck (JVC sell the HD111, which is the same camera except the firewire is In/Out and it costs 300 quid more) and I don't have easy access to a HDV deck. So if any of you out there have a HD101 or a HD111 and want to try this out then let me know...

And now, my final word. I originally tested this on one of my universities original HD110 cameras, which I believe is three to four years old. In a follow up test (a good scientist always double checks right?) I got to use one of the brand spanking new HD110s which are only about 4 months old, and guess what? It works with FCP PERFECTLY. I set it up as I've detailed above and got the "can't find deck" error so after checking all the camera settings I decided to set FCP to what it should be - HDV 720p25 and amazingly, it did it. This of course bypasses the error messages when trying to print to video, but again I can't test it because of the lack of input on the 110 model. However, as I imagine many people don't have the financial resources to be able to replace their current HD100 or 110 this information is still highly relevant.

Now has anyone got a HDV deck they can lend me...?

Friday, October 31, 2008

High Definition Video, Ups and Downs

The "HD Revolution" is here - apparently - and when it comes to production quality I'm all for jumping on the bandwagon. The equipment I have access to, however, is kind of hanging on the tail gate of the aforementioned musician transporting flatbed vehicle...

As I'm still a poor student, without access to the multitudes of digital cameras out there I'm reliant on either trying to blag something from a rental company, or the universities equipment. Now the uni has a good stock of JVC GY-HD110E "Prosumer HDV Camcorders" what this boils down to is they are a 1/3" 3 CCD digital camera that can record upto 1280x720 onto MiniDV tape, they also have a Fujinon lens as standard (not an integrated lens with digital iris as many entry level HDV cameras do) and are capable of recording in a few differant SD and HDV formats.

These are all good points, the bad points are not entirely the cameras fault although JVC themselves are a little to blame. HDV is not a standard, it stands for High Definition Video which covers a multitude of sins, as far as JVC and the GY-HD110E are concerned this means that you can record progressively in 1280x720 with square pixels (720p) as apposed to Standard Definition which is 720x526 with 4x3 Anamorphic pixels - this is good. However HDV has been taken up by Sony and Panasonic as well, and they have their own definitions, one of the differences between these three main manufacturers is that Sony and Panasonic HDV is pretty much fully integrated with Final Cut Pro, whereas JVC isn't. Somebody at the university stores didn't plan for the future (actually thats a bit harsh, JVC have strong ties to educational institutes for broadcast equipment so I imagine there was some external pressure) 

So, far the last two years despite having HDV capable cameras and HDV capable editing software, nothing has been filmed in HDV - because nobody knew how to get the two to communicate. This is all about to change...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Special Effects, on the cheap.

Found this website that shows people how to make some realistic looking gunshot wounds using the "Blue Peter" school of thought, so now I'm the proud owner of a hand pumped pressurised garden sprayer that has some excess piping from my PC's water cooling system attached to it...

The author of that site also points out a vitally important fact - the special effect shots are only shown for fractions of a second, if you look at the example above (it's a frame-by-frame breakdown of the example clip from their website) you only see the blood in frames 7 through 10 so, thats 4 frames or 1/6th of a second. Although its visually stimulating, it's only shocking if we care about the characters, and if it comes at an unexpected moment.

The scene in "Saving Private Ryan" springs to mind where the soldier has a bullet richochet off his helmet, and in awe takes his helmet off to look at it and then gets shot in the head.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Inspiration and Reasoning

I was actually inspired to make this film entirely from a recent watching of "All Quiet on the Western Front" - specifcally the very last scene, as Paul lies dieing on the parapet of the trenches all for the sake of a butterfly. The first thought that crossed my mind was what a silly thing to die for it was, of course the point is that young men dieing in a war started by old men in a warm office somewhere is as equally a silly reason. Now I'm not trying to make such a large (and unfortunately in the 80 years since All Quiet somewhat overdone) statement with my film, but I do want to touch upon it.

I've also had an interest in World War II from my childhood, stemming from my fathers militaria collection of the period so I find it easy to get interested in the project.



One of the questions we're constantly asked is what will the audience feel throughout the film? What is the emotional journey, and how do we convey it?

This of course is what makes or breaks a short film (and should really apply to feature lengths as well, but hey, if you've got 90 foot tall robots tearing up city streets who needs emotion?) unfortunately this is also the hardest aspect to portray. 

I hope to pull the audience in through the bond between the two characters - the film is essentially about friendship; if I can build a genuine feeling rappor between the two characters, something that the audience can relate too (That guy sounds just like my mate John) then they'll become more involved in their lives. Even though you'll never see Karl, and he is effectively the "baddie" from our perspective, I want this feeling to stretch to him as well - if the audience feels sorry for him, as well as shock at Stans death the impact is much stronger.

I hope to achieve this effect through a short, but genuine script; I'm currently researching War/Buddy films and analysing how the characters talk to each other, another possible option I've contemplated is "wiring" myself to record my conversations with friends...the legality of such a thing aside I'm unsure on the practicalities of it.



A small selection of imagery from GettyImages that I'm using as inspiration mainly for the location - I'm only going to use one so I want it to look as authentic as possible, as yet I'm undecided as general location. My choices are either; an urban environment, i.e. a building overlooking other buildings or an open environment, such as a slight hillock overlooking a field with a copse of trees. I personally believe the former of these is a more visually stimulating option - but wwill prove harder to achieve; finding a location without any nods to post 1950's lifestyle will prove extremely difficult.